'New York Times' decides opinion pieces on Web will be pay-per-view

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When the New York Times Co. announced its TimesSelect program last week, it moved towards embracing-albeit partially-a paid model for its Web site. Yet it does so as the Los Angeles Times and CNN have significantly scaled back their own attempts to charge Web users for content.

TimesSelect, which will be free to print edition subscribers, costs $49.95 a year. In a curious hybrid move, that fee does not affect which news stories Web surfers will see, but instead curtains off virtually all of its columnists, from Maureen Dowd to the sports section's Selena Roberts. TimesSelect and print subscribers will also have Web access to the Times' Newstracker service, archives, and, when the service launches on Sept. 19, access to some content before other readers.

"The rationale behind the strategy is to develop a robust, scalable second revenue stream [online] while keeping the ad revenue business growing at the rate it's been," said Martin Nisenholtz, the Times' senior VP-digital operations. Like virtually all other paid media, The New York Times faces a tough revenue environment, and newspapers have struggled in recent years to keep readers paying full price.

But the way the Times addressed the issue raised some eyebrows among savvier Web observers, who point out that the Times' op-ed columnists reliably drive traffic via bloggers' links, which also help keep the Times' columns in a prominent spot within the Web's conversational mix. (One interesting exception: David Carr, who last week began writing a media column, will have his available for free on the Web.)

"They're using bloggers as a target audience, not as a distribution channel," said Elizabeth Spiers, editor-in-chief of Mediabistro.com and the founding editor of influential gossip blog Gawker. (Full disclosure: This reporter is married to the CEO of Mediabistro.com.)

In a response to these concerns, Mr. Nisenholtz told attendees at a conference May 17 that the Times was considering setting up revenue-sharing arrangements with bloggers.


But Ms. Spiers remained doubtful. In order to participate, she said "bloggers have to pay for the package, and bloggers aren't going to pay for anything. The opinion pieces are catnip for bloggers, but if they don't have access, they aren't going to write about them."

Meanwhile, on May 16, CNN announced its broadband video content on its site would now be free. Since 2002, the site had charged for it.

"The cost of bandwidth has dramatically decreased," said Susan Grant, exec VP-CNN news services. "Eyeballs are good." She cited increased ad demand to sponsor online broadband offerings as another reason.

The Tribune Co.'s L.A. Times moved its Calendarlive.com listings section back to free on May 10; it had been a paid service since August 2003. "Growing local audience is a key driver for our online business," said Rob Barrett, GM of L.A. Times Interactive. Read more: AdAge.com QwikFIND aaq57p

Contributing: Kris Oser

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